Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra / Bruno Weil

Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 "Eroica"; Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 "Italian"

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Canadian historical-instrument group Tafelmusik has followed several of its peer ensembles into orchestral repertory of the 19th century, and a blurbed comment from the British magazine Gramophone included in the graphics for this release suggests typically startling results: the players "convince us that Beethoven can sound as radical in the 21st century as he must have done in the 19th." The program opens with Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90 ("Italian"), which doesn't come off as terribly radical. True, German conductor Bruno Weil takes both outer movements at a speedy clip and keeps the ensemble running very precisely, but the basic balance among the sections of the orchestra is conventional. The overall effect of the Mendelssohn is that of a curtain-raiser for the Beethoven Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 ("Eroica"), much the weightier of the pair in these readings. Weil's tempi are brisk here, as well, but the more novel aspect is the treatment of the brass and wind instruments: they are brought to the fore and asked to execute vigorous attacks that build up a good deal of energy. Sample the Scherzo (track 7), where Weil gets a great deal of vividly contrasting sound out of a fairly small group (about 40 players) and gives his horns room to run. All this takes a great deal of skill when it comes to horns of the early 19th century, and this fine orchestra, which in the past has often enough been accurate but something less than exciting, does not flag. Tafelmusik has started its own label, and the engineers achieve impressive results in live performances over four days at Toronto's Koerner Hall. For a crisp, lean, detailed, and innovative "Eroica," this is worth a strong recommendation.

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